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3/5. Book *pauses to look it up* nine. Urban fantasy *gestures* stuff, but let's talk about babymaking.

So they get married in this one, and there's a couple prophecies about their kid, and then [spoiler, except come on, it's totally not] at the very end she's surprise! Pregnant. And because I'm me I am stuck on whether they were using birth control. I guess we're supposed to assume not, based on the pregnancy (though in reality, birth control accidents happen all the damn time). And I don't remember if we know anything about how birth control works in this mixed magic/tech post apocalypse world anyway. But can we just –

If you are a couple people with the requisite parts and the ladyparts are, like, less than say 43 years old, and you aren't using protection, you are trying to have a baby. Like, there is no 'oh we weren't preventing but we weren't really trying either' – no. That is not a real thing. That does not exist. Babymaking does not depend on, like, deciding that this month you really mean it. And more pointedly, not using birth control is a specific choice to get pregnant, because 90% of couples will conceive within six months of dropping birth control.* That is, like, why there are billions of us crawling around this planet. This shit is supposed to be easy, and just because it wasn't easy for me and it was in fact impossible for several people I care about doesn't change that.

I am just sick unto death of books of all genres – romance, urban fantasy, general lit – treating pregnancy as a surprise random occurrence. As if not getting pregnant was equally – if not more – likely, and really who could have expected this! Who the fuck are these people who go around banging unprotected and don't expect the outcome?

Write me books about people who actually plan their family-building. Who have conversations about the nitty gritty of it like adults. You know, not just the vague will-we-won't-we, but all the actual shit you talk about like doing the math and realizing that having a baby nine months from right now would be super terrible so let's use a condom for these two weeks. Accidents happen, sure, but funny how they seem to account for 90% of the stories about conceiving I read. And for god's sake, let's stop pretending a lot of these pregnancies are accidents at all when they fucking aren't. It's your body, fucking own what you decided to do with it.


*There's a lot more nuance to this, but you get me.
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Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels, #7)Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this at the very end of pregnancy, which was just a few weeks ago but might as well be another country. But I remember enough to know I was deeply bored by this: battle, running, battle, shipping, battle, battle. The thing is, this series has a refreshing brutality. That's actually a compliment – the shit that happens to the heroine is genuinely frightening (without going instantly to rape!) and it's treated with the proper respect and gravity, with this cool understanding that you keep moving, even with your trauma. Except the problem is? The romance is cast as, like, a refuge from all that. The whole port in a storm, your back against mine sort of thing. Which is great! Right up my alley!

…Too bad the dude in question is obnoxious, clichéd, and boring. Ugh, with the very worst of the possessive animal behaviors thing. And I know, I know I keep harking on this, but werelion, guys.

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Magic Rises (Kate Daniels, #6)Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's Friday, book done,
and now it's time for more stunt
reviewing, bitches!

There is always a
breaking point for me reading
urban fantasy.

Series seem to have
an event horizon of
what the fuckery.

There's a surfeit of
boyfriends, or bad porn, or wangst,
or plain old stupid.

I have to bite in
just right to swallow it all
or I gag on it.

But sometimes the first
hit lasts. The magic lingers.
I end up . . . caring.

Book six. In or out?
Short lifetime, so many books –
Wait, shit. Oops. I care.

Though her boyfriend is
still a fucking werelion,
And the porn . . . *shakes head*.

But this world is rich
and strange and bloody, and this
magic does linger.

And okay, fine, yes,
I'm even invested in
the fucking arc plot.

Even though it's all
daddy issues and needless
familial shit.

So yeah. I care now.
I admit it, it happened.
I even have feels.

…Though I do wish she
would drop the bag of clichés
known as werelion

and instead bang her
dad's evil henchman like a
screen door. Is that bad?

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On the Edge (The Edge, #1)On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this book is all, “I’m cool urban fantasy about a girl living a hardscrabble life where two dimensions meet, working a menial job and single-parenting her baby brothers (the werecat and the necromancer), but I’m also a fairy tale in the good way where a knight in shining armor rides in from the magic dimension and there are three tasks to court her, but I’m totally not one of those books where the girl is awesome and then some asshole comes along and ruins her life and then fixes it with his enormous bank account. Definitely not.”

Right. So there’s this bit early on where our heroine explains to the hero that she doesn’t have anything against women who sell themselves for sex, you see, she’s just not one of them. I eyebrowed a bit at the time and muttered, “yes, but would you want your daughter to marry one?” But hey, it’s June, it’s sunny, it could have been sincere.

And then I learned a lesson. Several lessons. See, hero later explains to the heroine how he’d social engineered his place in his formalized, old-fashioned society so the only women who ever approached him wouldn’t be women looking to marry. They’d be looking for a lover or a sponsor.

And our heroine says, I am not making this up, I swear to God, “the only women you favor with your attentions are either sluts or whores, and you prefer it that way.”

Let’s review what I learned from this:

1. Women who want to have sex – women who opt out of the marriage market and take control of their sexuality -- are sluts. Well. Thanks for clearing that up.

2. Now we know what Rose really thinks of women who sell sex, and it ain't pretty.

3. You can’t trust what this book is telling you. No really.

And the really irritating part is that the world building is good, and Rose’s poverty is the constant, wearing, exhausting kind and not the sexy kind, and her brothers are great, and just argh. Some asshole comes and ruins her life then fixes it with his giant bank account, and it’s supposed to be romantic. What the fuck ever.

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Magic Slays (Kate Daniels, #5)Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s hard to know what to expect from an urban fantasy series which has previously delivered hilarious interludes of werelion sex, and then on a separate occasion driven me to review in haiku. This installment was . . . you know what? It was actually pretty good.

There aren’t rules for writing, obviously, because the minute I come up with one, someone comes along and busts it in the best possible way. But here’s one that’s almost always true (and incidentally one of the ways literary narratives are like TV narratives): things are way more interesting when the protagonist has someone to talk to. I do not know why urban fantasy authors persist in fielding these lone wolf, communityless protagonists. These guys and girls cannot sustain a narrative all on their lonesome, with occasional interludes of snarky banter. They’re inner lives are just not that rich. Including the heroine of this series. So good job, Andrews, on finally giving her a more permanent sidekick and someone to ping-pong off in nearly every scene. Just that one thing kicked the book up from pleasant to pretty damn fun.

And the other thing is I love how violent this series is. No, really. I love that Kate slices and dices her way through her enemies, that there are literal rivers of blood at various points. And does she get all emo about it? Nope. I don’t like it as violence qua violence, you understand, I like it because it’s so rare to find a female protagonist who doesn’t wangst about the exercise of her power. Who doesn’t do the urban fantasy equivalent of the oversocialized woman’s apology game – I’m sorry I brushed by you from eight inches away, I’m sorry I’m taking up space your manly shoulders need in this elevator, I'm sorry I cut your intestines out with my badass sword. Just for some random examples.

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Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels, #4)Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, so I didn’t laugh quite as hard as I did when Kim Harrison helpfully informed us that witches have extra vaginal muscles that clamp down more the better the orgasm (still funny!). But props where props are due, I did giggle when the heroine of this book momentarily worried that a condom wouldn’t fit. And I LOLed repeatedly and often through the intricacies of werelion sex – he has a refractory period of two minutes! Because he’s a lion!

I laugh, but the more paranormal/urban fantasy I read, the more I dislike this brand of paranormal sex. The literal out of this world stuff – magically synchronous orgasms, supernatural staying power, extra special werelion big dicks. I think it’s this decade’s version of hilariously impossible pulp romance sex. You know those girls who can get off if a pirate/duke/rogue so much as brushes his fingers up her petticoat. I can’t really figure out why it bugs me when plenty of other absurd things don’t. Maybe because the audience for these books is women, and god forbid women believe that their pleasure is something their partner can and should have to work for. Not quite. Maybe, as my roommate astutely points out, because it implies that sex with an ordinary partner instead of a vampire just isn’t good sex – not good enough, anyway. Maybe because we’re already so bombarded with sex misinformation, and now we’re teaching our teen girls to construct their sexual identities around vampirically chilled penises (do not do a Google product search, trust me) and impossibly prolonged orgasms. It’s not like I don’t get the value of fantasy, but . . .

Mostly, though, it just isn’t sexy to me. It’s the paraphernalia problem you get in a lot of BDSM erotica, where it’s all about the equipment. I don’t really care how long his vampire fangs are, I care about the psychology of the thing, the sweat, the lizardbrain responses. And most paranormal is all about the equipment.

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Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels, #3)Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don’t have much to say

About this book, so let’s try

Some stunt reviewing.

This would normally

Be called a guilty pleasure.

I mean, werelion?

Sorry, the sexy

Werelion, called “Beast Lord” of,

No lie, Atlanta.

Heroine is a

Badass swordswoman with, yes

Dangerous secrets.

They fight each other,

Also evil, and don’t fuck/

Fuck on pub schedule.

But these days I just

Don’t mix guilty with pleasure:

Life’s short, too much grief.

It’s cold. I’m tired

And sad. Sometimes you just like

Things and that’s okay.

(Wait, shit, how did I

Miscount the syllables in

Fucking werelion?)

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Dark and Stormy KnightsDark and Stormy Knights by P.N. Elrod

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Anthologies, you know. It’s like asking people to throw random things at your head and hoping they pick cotton balls instead of rocks.

The good

Rachel Caine, “Even a Rabbit Will Bite” – A surprise standout. I’m not a Rachel Caine fan (hello, deliberate impregnation without consent plotline in her series, unclean unclean!) but this really worked. Very ancient dragonslayer teaches the trade to her apprentice. There’s just one dragon left in the world now, and only on the brink of extinction can you ask if this should ever have happened. Nothing hugely surprising, but one of the most balanced, layered stories here.

Jim Butcher, “Even Hand” – Oh Jim Butcher, how are you so charming while still being . . . you? A mystery for the ages. Harry Dresden is Sir Not Appearing in this story, except for how when a story is about John Marcone, it’s really all about Harry Dresden anyway.

Ilona Andrews, “A Questionable Client” – A long night’s slugfest of bodyguard work, enlivened by some interesting worldbuilding and a nice ending. No real there there, but lots of color.

The bad

Deirdre Knight, “Beknighted” – How am I supposed to take an author seriously when she says “preciseness” instead of “precision?” Also, the story is a floridly overwritten bit of nonsense that is supposed to be romantic and atmospheric but . . . isn’t.

Shannon K. Butcher, “The Beacon” – A story about a guy who shoots people before they can unknowingly pull demons across the void to kill everyone. Except one day, it’s a little girl, and you know shooting those old people, that was okay, but this is just not on, and also the girl’s mother is hot. The story isn’t great, but I hated it more than it deserved for its inept attempt at depth.

Vicki Pettersson, “Shifting Star” – It’s so awkward when you automatically assume the sexually harassing neighbor dude who can’t take no for an answer is one of the bad guys, only to discover he’s supposed to be the hero. Always an awkward cocktail party moment! Add in the bit where the heroine fucks with his memory and then makes out with him, and I pretty much had to scrub my brain out after reading this. But I think we already knew Vicki Pettersson’s sexual politics were this bad.

The indifferent

Carrie Vaughn, “God’s Creatures” – Unexceptional story about a werewolf hunt that does the whole “who’s the real monster here?” routine. Been there, done that.

Lilith Saintcrow, “Rookwood and Mrs. King” – Vampire detective gets hired to kill a woman’s undead husband, and then she pwns him all over the place. Vaguely entertaining.

P. N. Elrod, “Dark Lady” – Chicago, vampires, mob, etc. Fun, but not something I’ll remember two weeks from now.

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Sequel to Magic Bites. Second verse same as etc. – lightweight urban fantasy told by first-person female narrator in post-apocalypse Atlanta.

Best thing about this series is still the worldbuilding. It's interesting and maybe it's not mind-blowingly unique, but I've realized that's actually pretty much all of what I'm interested in. Because otherwise these books are . . . weird. They do a neat two-step around a lot of the genre's clichés (vampires! Still disgusting!) and then barrel face-first into others (werelion beastlord who loves her, sigh). And the whole thing makes me feel vaguely whipsawed and headachey.

I was explaining to [ profile] bayleaf how I have this weird relationship with this subgenre. I find it simultaneously compulsively readable and deeply, deeply problematic. As a feminist, often, though also sometimes as, I don't know, a human being. This series so far is doing okay in negotiating those reactions, but like every single other venture, I walk away annoyed that it doesn't do more. Surely surely the problematic elements aren't inherent to the subgenre? I mean, the fundamental theory seems sound – write women's fiction that doesn't apologize for also having fistfights, because hey we can acknowledge that women want to have adventures as well as vampire werelion boyfriends. And yet . . .

Anyway. I digress. This series delivers exactly what you expect out of the subgenre, and the only place it does more is the setting. No, I don't know if that's meant to be a rec or not -- I think that depends entirely on your receptivity to that sort of thing. Mine is waning at the moment, so there you go.
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First in a newish urban fantasy series. First person female narrator, mystery plot, entanglements with the powerful, groundwork for long-term arc, you know the sort of thing.

Except hey, lookit that, this one actually knows where its clichés are, and there's some nicely-spent time subverting or outright inverting them. I think it's safe to say, for example, that there's never going to be a hot vampire love interest here. Oh darn. (Unfortunate title choice, incidentally).

Not blow-my-mind fabulous – it needed an extra fifty pages for that, plus a dash more subtlety and one less werelion potential love interest. But about the two-thirds mark I went "hmm!" and read straight through to the end. I'll be snagging the sequel as fast as I can locate it, which is as much of a rec as I'm giving so early on in a series.


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